Stymie

Jarrold Walker, a detective on the Police Force for ten years, nabbed a cold case two days hence extremely curious and intrigued. What had caused this case to stall, he wondered. Officially, it was because there were no credible leads. That meant, someone had lied. Someone close to the victim, perhaps a family friend in a misguided attempt at shielding the victim from criticism, or the perp themself had manipulated the circumstances managing to escape unscathed. Sometimes a green detective was stymied by what questions to ask when and of whom. That would change if he had his way and his caseload spoke for itself. Personally, he delved into each case with determination and fervour, eager to solve the mystery of who why when and where. He was good at his job and revelled in finding the culprit.

Hailey Barnsworth had succumbed to injuries sustained outside her front door and had been spotted by a concerned neighbour out walking his dog. The dog began barking furiously yanking on his leash and jumping on the neighbour’s gate, something he just didn’t do and therefore, it caught Franklin Mobile’s attention immediately. Noticing the light over the front door was on, and the dog wouldn’t settle, he hurriedly took the dog home before returning. He’d rushed through the gate toward the house and found the 42-year-old woman severely beaten and barely alive. He’d called an ambulance and police immediately and asked what to do. As a mystery buff, he’d said he knew he could contaminate the scene but wanted to help. He’d stepped close enough to ascertain she was still breathing but now wasn’t sure what else to do. Fortunately, the police and ambulance crews were close and arrived within seven minutes.

He stepped back and watched the horrible scene play out until the woman was placed in the ambulance. He’d stood rubbing his hands through his hair, pacing and clearly agitated. The detective on the case asked detailed questions and the man returned home. He’d been questioned several times since and his story hadn’t changed.

Hailey Barnsworth was a well-known journalist and worked on bringing the truth to her readers. She didn’t hold back when an injustice occurred and stood valiantly for the victim who’d paid the ultimate price in death and a family left behind, distraught in shock and pain, left with an unfillable void. As he continued reading he decided she would have made an excellent detective. She was inciteful, caring, determined and each case received her undivided attention from the outset to the finale in court.

It became abundantly clear that this wasn’t going to be a slam dunk. There were myriads of possible suspects due to the work she did and because she had undoubtedly made some viable enemies.

After looking at all the evidence contained in the case file, he made a trip to the scene itself at eight in the evening, to see what the conditions would have looked like at the time. Sure enough, it was pitch black and without the light over the door, it’s doubtful anyone would have seen what transpired. According to the evidence, nothing had been stolen; the door was slightly ajar suggesting she’d been caught in the act of unlocking it and someone could have entered but hadn’t. Her purse, keys, cell phone and wallet were in tact and the groceries she’d been carrying were strewn about the front step and her car was parked in its stall and hadn’t been tampered with either. Obviously, the motive wasn’t theft and that left revenge whether related to a story she’d covered, a disgruntled associate or even a friend with a grudge to grind. This was a hit. Nothing short of in his mind.

As he stood contemplating these possibilities, a woman step out of the door and yelled, “Who are you? What do you want? I’ve already called the police,” she warned.

Holding both hands up he replied, “I am the cops,” he paused and reached for his badge said, “your welcome to check out my badge number. I can call it out to you if you’d like.”

“Do that!” she yelled back.

As he called it out, she relayed the badge number over the phone and they confirmed he was one of theirs. “Yes, you can cancel the car. It seems everything is in order.”

“So what are you doing here?” she asked walking toward him.

“Detective Jarrold Walker,” he held out his badge for her to visually verify and replied, “I picked up a cold case involving a woman who lived here previously.”

“Aunt Barnsworth.”

“Your related?”

“Yes. I’m Melinda Barnsworth. She left her house and everything else to me. Cold compensation when I’d much prefer having her here to visit with.” Pausing she asked, “You interested in coffee? I have some perking.”

“Love some.” He opened the gate and walked toward the house alongside the lovely woman noting the remarkable resemblance between her and her aunt. Both were natural blonds with periwinkle blue eyes and she stood about five-eight with a slender build.

They entered and walked through the living room and large open dining area to the well-appointed kitchen. Elegant and refined came to mind. “Beautiful place.”

“How long have you lived here?” he asked curiously.

As she poured their coffee she sighed, “About six months after my aunt’s passing, the will was read and I took up occupancy. I was in two minds about it believe me, and while I could have rented it out (a headache at best) or sold it, I couldn’t handle the thought of someone else living here and I chose to move in myself. Trust me on occasion, the ghosts get to me. Her presence is everywhere.”

Perching on a stool he said, “Sounds like you were close.”

Sipping her coffee she replied, “Yes, we were.”

“Mind if I ask some questions?”

“No, not really although I doubt what little information I have will be pertinent. I was eighteen at the time and studying for exams so I was hitting the books.”

“What courses?” he asked curiously.

“I was an art major. And yes, before you ask, I am a sculptor and a painter. I divide my time equally between the two and it’s how I make my living.”

“Impressive,” he smiled, “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body so I’m always drawn to the arts and I can’t ever fathom how you manage it. Such beauty, detail, workmanship. Boggles my mind and leaves me in awe.”

“Hey, as long as you appreciate, its a step, right?”

He laughed outright, “Yeah, no, not in this case. I doubt I could get stick figures to look like what they are.” She laughed out loud, enjoying his humour.

“Ok, ask me your questions.” She settled onto another stool beside him.

He asked about her aunt’s schedule, friends, acquaintances and what she knew about them. Her memories were vivid clear and concise.

“You know I was supposed to stay over that weekend. And what if I had? Would she have died, would my presence have prevented her death or only forestalled it?”

“Or would you both be dead?” he asked quietly.

“There’s a thought. That possibility never entered my mind.”

“Well, it should because whether this was a random act or perpetrated by someone you or your aunt knew, they wouldn’t have wanted to leave witnesses behind.”

“God, I never entertained the idea that was a possibility,” she remarked while refilling their cups. “I really thought it was a random thing, a thief out to steal something but didn’t have the guts to go through with it…or they were interrupted.”

“They had guts enough to dispose of your aunt.”

“God, I know your right, but as much as I’ve thought about it, no one person stands out in particular as a viable suspect. I know as a journalist, she’d made her mark and she was truthful no matter what. I half suspected her death might pertain to one of the cases she was working on.”

“It a definite possibility and it’s going to take time to run down all the stories and people involved. Then there are friends and aquaintances. Did she ever mention any jealousies involving co-workers?”

“None that she took seriously. I know there was a woman that wanted the anchor position at the station and my aunt had been approached a week or so before her death and asked if she wanted it. She’d turned it down because she found more value in solving the uncovering the story than relating it. She had started writing a book. Interestingly, I’ve yet to find the manuscript. Mind you I haven’t gone through her computer files or her desk. You know, we could do that now.”

Melinda stood and led the way to a nice sized office space that was probably once used as a bedroom, but which she’d conveniently converted. It was bright airy and welcoming.

She reached on top of the bookcase, brought a key down and unlocked the desk. “I’ve kept her tablet charged since the cops brought it back but I just never took the time to look through it. I was half afraid of what I might find I guess.”

“How so?”

“Well, what if I actually found something that pointed to a killer, who would I tell, would anyone believe me, was there any evidence to substantiate such a claim? Honestly, I wasn’t sure where to start what to look for and I left it.”

“Probably a good thing and now I’m involved, we can do this together. Sound good?”

“You know, it does.”

Melinda opened a drawer hidden inside a drawer and pulled out a little binder. She opened it and typed in the password for the computer before discreetly replacing the binder to its assigned location. “We’re in.

They spent the next couple of hours going through her aunt’s notes on cases she’d recently been involved in and a note on a fresh page instantly caught their eye. “Damian Brockleman…perv?”

Sitting back in her chair she whispered, “Woe! That’s a name! Not someone you’d want to tangle with. Not sure if it’s true but there are rumours he’s connected.” She sighed hugely.

“That would garner some nasty enemies if she’d begun poking around at all. Since there aren’t any notes to suggest whether she had or not, it’s difficult to assume an immediate connection, but what if?” Melinda asked on a shiver. “The hint of a question might be the impetus that placed her in danger and since her work was well known, she’d have definitely spooked him if she were looking, don’t you think?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I do. I don’t want you involved in anything relating to him, Melinda. If he did kill your aunt, he’d have no compunction whatsoever in taking you out. A little more difficult to take a cop down when it’s likely others are aware of the questioning.”

She turned and looked at him, “Not impossible or any less likely. It could be made to look accidental or related to a prior case you worked on, right?”

“I can’t discount that possibility, but it comes with the job. It’s what I do and I can’t let that stop me or I’d never get anywhere.”

“It’s late. I have an early day tomorrow and stuff to finish tonight.” Melinda paused, “Interested in a do-over tomorrow? Includes dinner.”

He smiled, “Yeah, love the prospects and looking forward to it. Anything I can bring?”

“Nope, I have everything in hand.”

She walked him to the door and he waved as he left. Lovely woman, remarkable incite and he was really looking forward to seeing her again, case or no case. He smiled. Yep, interesting all around. Still, his priority had somewhat changed. If anyone suspected her involvement and knowing what had happened to her aunt, there was a distinct possibility they’d go after her next to keep their secret safe.

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